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Best DEET, Picaridin, and Natural Insect Repellents: How to Choose

Insect Repellents

DEET and Picaridin-based insect repellent sprays and lotions are available from a wide range of brands and in a variety of forms factors. How effective are they are repelling mosquitos and ticks? What are the best concentrations to get? Which one’s are the safest to use for children and pregnant women? Can insect repellents damage clothing and gear? Are lotions and wipes more effective that pump-sprays or aerosol cans? Are there any natural products that have also proven effective at repelling mosquitos and ticks?

Insect Repellents: Key Takeaways

  • DEET and Picaridin insect repellents are more effective and longer lasting than most natural insect repellents and oils
  • 20% and 30% concentrations are just effective as 100%, but may need to be applied more often
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), a natural insect repellent, is also quite effective in a 30% concentration. Other natural products are not effective.
  • Insect repellents are best used in conjunction with protective clothing. Wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants and head net when insects are most active.
  • Apply Permethrin to clothing or purchase Insect Shield treated clothing, which repels insects and helps prevent them from biting through clothing.
  • Wrist bands, clip on fans, citronella candles, and natural repellents like lemon grass, cinnamon, cedar, clove, rosemary or spearmint don’t work very well.
  • Read insect repellent instructions carefully and apply as directed. Many questions are answered by reading product directions or manufacturers safety sheets, found online.

Insect Repellents: In-depth


DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is found in Sawyer Jungle Juice (concentration of 98%), Ben’s 100 Max Formula Insect Repellent (95%) and Repel 100 Insect Repellent Spray (98%). In use since 1946, it’s the most widely used insect repellent today, and highly effective against mosquitos and ticks. The smell of DEET is highly offensive to mosquitos who avoid the scent.

Studies have found that the 20%-30% concentrations of DEET are just as effective as the 100% concentrations listed above, but need to be applied more frequently. DEET with a 100% concentration can last up to 12 hours, while 30% DEET concentrations last up to 6 hours before requiring reapplication.

Lower concentration 30% DEET is also available in slow-release lotions, which can last up to 12 hours before needing to be reapplied. Ultrathon 34% Insect Repellent is the most popular long-lasting formulation and ideal for overseas travel to areas infested with malaria-carrying mosquitos because a little goes a long way.

One of the downsides of DEET-based insect repellent is that it will fog plastic lenses on watch faces, smartphones, and glasses. It also dissolves nylon-based clothing, so be very careful when applying it to keep it away from plastic and synthetics.

30% concentrations of DEET are safe for use by pregnant women and small children. When applying DEET to children, don’t let them apply it themselves. Instead, spray it or rub it on your hands before rubbing it on exposed skin. Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. Avoid applying DEET to their hands because children frequently put their hands in their mouth and eyes. Only apply to skin that is exposed and not under clothing. Avoid the use of DEET near food and water. Wash with soap and water at the end of the day.


Picaridin became available in the United States in 2005 and is a synthetic compound, related in structure to black pepper. It repels mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, sand flies, gnats, chiggers, and midges. It is widely used in Europe and recommended by the World Heath Organization for the prevention of malaria in 40 countries.

The most effective concentration of Picaridin is 20% and will last up 8-12 hours before repeat application is required. Lower concentrations, sometimes found in wipes are only moderately less effective.

Unlike DEET, Picaridin is safe to use around plastics, synthetic apparel, and gear with synthetic coatings such as fishing line, sunglasses, watches, GPS units or phone screens.

Picaridin is considered to be safe for children as young as 2 months of age and pregnant women. Contact with the eyes and mouth should be avoided however, and the usage directions followed carefully.

Lotions, Wipes, Aerosols, and Pumps

Insect Repellent lotions last considerably longer than sprays of comparable DEET or Picaridin concentrations, because the repellent is rubbed into the skin, delaying evaporation. It’s also far more accurate than applying insect repellent than with a spray or pump because it’s easy to accidentally miss areas. Wipes also provide an effective way to apply insect repellent to the skin, but result in additional waste which must be disposed of after use.

Spray-on and pump sprays containing DEET are also harder to direct accurately when applied and can ruin plastic gear or synthetic garments if the spray is accidentally applied to them. If you accidentally apply DEET to gear and clothing, immediately rinse it off with plenty of water to prevent damage.

Natural Insect Repellents

Research studies by the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Consumers Union have shown that Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) is the only effective natural insect repellent proven effective against mosquitos and ticks. It’s important not to confuse this product with Lemon Eucalyptus Oil which is a very different product.

OLE, available as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus is effective for up to 6 hours in a 30% concentration. However, OLE has not been well-tested on children and the CDC and Consumer Union advise against using it on children under 3 years of age.  Natural insect repellents including citronella, spearmint, clove, lemon grass, and other botanicals have not proven to be an effective insect repellent for mosquitos and ticks.

What’s your preferred insect repellent for mosquitos and ticks?

Updated 2018.

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  1. sawyer Picaridin lotion

    • I switched from 100% Deet (Ben’s) to 30% Natrepel (Picardian) this year after using DEET for many many years because it doesn’t destroy my plastic navigation tools like DEET products do. I decant it into a small 1 oz. squeeze bottle so I don’t have to carry a huge bottle when I hike. Stuff works great, but I also use it in conjunction with a head net and long sleeve shirt and long pants.

      • G’day Philip, I use Bushmans gel, at http://www.bushman-repellent.com/bushman-ultra-deet-insect-mosquito-repellent.html.
        I trust this stuff at the right concentration and it has no smell as such. Made in Aus. like me. I used it through Timor Leste and Cambodia where Malaria and Dengue Fever are rife and scared the hell out of me (also in seven trips New Zealand where the sandflys and/midges will carry you away -no I am not joking ask a kiwi!). I have used both concentrations. It is really tried and trusted and has never let me down. Clouds of mozzies can be around me and none will land. I also like applying it only to bare skin as directed (long sleeves and trousers at dusk and sunrise) and this is sufficient to easily counter mozzies. I have had no adverse affect. Don’t use the one with sunscreen so you can apply the sunscreen every 4 hours. I have experienced no problem with this.Follow the instructions carefully and it is extremely effective. Bushmans use-miniscule amount on hands, rub together, then over exposed body. Apply this way to all bare skin only. I have found so called “natural products” are not to be trusted. All diseases/problems are best dealt with by prophylaxis. My daughter went through Laos and Cambodia with a group, she applied the Bushmans assiduously four others did not, they all got Malaria. Two threw it off and two still have it. I will try Picaridin this Summer, if it ever gets here. Cheers.

      • It’s 40% DEET. I’m surprised the Picardian isn’t in Aus. It’s the *standard* in much of Europe.

      • did you mean you switch to 20% Natrepel? Ive never seen 30% Natrepel product.

      • You’re right! My mistake.

    • I use the Ben’s 100%Max and OLE….both are good. I hate bug nets, and wearing long pants, and sleeves in summer. I usually wear compression socks, and treat them with Permethrine. I think I will try something else like the Bushman stuff, or Natrapel, next year

  2. Do the products expire in your experience?

    • I think it’d be hard to make a blanket statement about all of the products in this category. Check with the manufacturer if you have concerns.

      • Sorry, I meant if summer if ever gets here. Its pretty nippy and in the middle of winter at the moment. We have the picaridrin. Just (I think) not in gel -easy to carry form. I have been bitten pretty bad in New Zealand by Sandflies and haven’t been willing to take a chance. So have relied on what worked and was easy to carry and apply. They love me those female mossies and sandfliies.

  3. I have been using Picardin with good results for several years

  4. I’ve switched to Picaridin lotion in the past year or so. Basically I ran out of DEET one day and was offered this. Even with sprays I’ve always sprayed into a hand and applied, so the lotion just eliminates the waste. So far, so good. Even in the swampiest places bugs bites are kept to a minimum. Seems to hold up to sweat as long as you were dry when applied. Dont know about waterproof as I always reapply after a swim. Now if there was just something to keep the gnats from flying right in front of your eyes while you walk…

    Another good use for Permethrin is as a tick reducer for your yard. I was skeptical, but the following does work. Collect all the toilet paper tubes and all your dryer lint. Lay out the dryer lint in a thin layer and saturate with the Permethrin. Once dry, put the lint loosely into the toilet paper tubes and scatter around the yard in protected areas. The tubes last long enough to keep the lint pretty dry until the local mice population find it and take the material for their nests. The Permethrin gets onto the mice and not only kills any ticks in the nest, but soon kills any tick at all that touch the mice. Since mice are a key carrier of ticks, this cuts out a huge breeding ground.

    Basically scatter the tubes as you can make them in the dry months. I did it 3 times the first year and roughly 2-3 times in the past 2 years. While we didn’t see any tangible results in year one, the effect has been dramatic since. Even with the extremely dry conditions last year where the ticks were nuts most places, we rarely saw any in our yard. As a bonus, it seems like the mosquito population is down too, but that might be due to the lack of breeding area last summer. Still, it’s a great way to use the lint and tubes. The only real cost is the Permethrin but a $15 bottle lasted 2 years. Way cheaper than trying to get the yard sprayed.

    Now, if there was just a way to put a tick collar on the deer…

  5. I use IS treated clothing exclusively. Never liked the idea of putting insect repellant of any kind on my skin.

  6. I use The Sawyer spray pen, 20% picardin, I think. I used DEET for a while but it’is just so oily. I feel like I can never get it scrubbed off. I still don’t think the picardin is quite as strong (I have a memory of a poor experience with Avon and black flies one summer in Maine), but it’s been fine in mild to moderate flying bug pressure, and fine against ticks. Ugh, ticks.

  7. Natrapel Picaridin pump, sprayed into the hand and then smeared over exposed skin. I like to get a little bit on an index finger to do the ear close to the external auditory canal. It drives me nuts to have insect fly in and buzz at my eardrum. Animals have hairy ears (and wax) for this reason. I like to hear (hence, no wax left), and women’s ears are pretty bald, so the ears get special attention.

    I don’t like DEET because I handle camera gear. I do have a small solid stick DEET, resembles a large Chapstick or a deodorant stick.

    Permethrin on EVERYTHING – long pants, socks, long shirt – and bugnet-bathtub part of the tent. Too many mosquitos perched on the netting, looking in – hungrily.

  8. I can’t stand the feel of DEET and switched to picaridin a few years ago. I use the Natrapel pump but I’m also going to try some of the lotion. Thanks for the info on it.

  9. Not sure if I missed it, but does the Picaridin have an odor? I have used REI Jungle Juice and it is always very effective, but horrible smell. It also damaged my watch. I did not know about Picaridin. Sounds like a great product I will try!

  10. Deet never failed to keep the bugs off but some of the drawbacks mentioned above got me to switch to Picardin this year. The swarming mosquitos of the upper Midwest summer woods did seem to find parts of my face that I must have not applied the spray, I will try the lotion.
    Another downside of Deet is the effect on fish. A fishing bait manufacturer who uses scents and tastes to attract fish looked in to what repels fish. Deet was the most effective fish repellent that they found, even in very low concentrations. Just a bit on the hands that touch the lure was enough to keep the fish away.

  11. I already own plenty of summer hiking clothing with all shirts UPF 50 that I decided to send three sets to Insectshield.com for their treatments. Considering the cost of mailing to them, return via FEDEX and costs of treatment, it works out to about $15 per item. (Sent 3 at a time for slightly reduced rate.) I’ll send at least some cool weather pants and maybe some warmer shirts to them in the fall. I have 3 wide brimmed “sun hats” which I’ve sprayed with the Permethrin spray bottles you can buy at Walmart among other places. I can wash them six times before I need to re-coat them. My main concern is ticks which are supposed to be plentiful this year especially in the mid-Atlantic.

    As for the repellents, I purchased the three that Consumer Reports rated highly last year. I use Off Deep Woods when walking my dog around the neighborhood and to the park. In the GW National Forest where I do most of my hiking, I use Bens 30% tall orange/red container or the 100% Bens which comes in small bottles which fit easily in my day pack. Often, I don’t need to use anything additional with the treated clothing, but sometimes I put some on my bare arms and face.

    I purchased the other two the CS recommended: Sawyer 20% Picaridin which has a lousy pump which I hate and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus which just plain stinks. I may end up tossing them.

  12. Not sure which “research studies” were referenced, but i’ve seen some that do indicate various herbal and essential oils are somewhat effective, though not as long lasting as the chemical synthetics. Most of these materials are highly volatile, and efficacy can be improved by adding ingredients that help reduce this characteristic.

    I make my own concoction of oils including citronella, lavender, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, tea tree, geranium, cedar wood in an alcohol carrier to make a sprayable solution. Pennyroyal can be toxic at higher concentrations and/or extended exposure, so best to leave it out if using the mix often.

    Another synthetic not mentioned that’s almost effective as DEET is IR3535 (3-[N-Butyl-N- acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester).

  13. I have used deet and have moticed a damaging effect on synthetic chothes or equipment. Can you explain?

  14. I bought a gallon of permethrin to treat clothes by spraying clothes liberally then put in black bag overnight to soak. Let dry the next day. I redo this before a trip. For face and bare skin I use Repel Tick Defense Unscented Aerosol that is 15% Picaridin and reapply when needed. Keeping covered in clothes as much as possible seems to work the best for me.

  15. This thread hasn’t mentioned the elephant in the room- Black Flies. While the products discussed deal with mosquitoes well, black flies are another matter and more relavent to May/June hikers and fisherman.

    My father gave me Old Woodsman’s Fly Dope 40 years ago and it is the only thing for black flies. Based on pine tar, it repels anything, including people. But it works.

    The product name has changed over the years due to bankruptcies and reboots. Latest supplier is http://oletimewoodsman.com

    • Thanks for mentioning Black Flies of New England, Bill.

      I grew up in the southeast US. Mosquitoes plentiful, but not full of anger like ticks.

      Having lived in Maine a few summers, I’ve never experienced anything on the level of Black Flies in May. We only had DEET back in the day, which worked well for mosquitoes, not so much black flies. These days seems Picaridin does a much better job of repelling insects in the family of North American flies that bite like a snake with one fang!

      Near southern beaches, sand flies are of a similar nature as black flies though don’t gnaw your skin bloody like black flies do. Picaridin appears to be the choice. I’ll test that out soon with some sea kayak camping.

  16. Sorry to comment so late. Agree with the Old Time Woodsman Fly Dope. It’s the only thing that really seems to work in the peak of black fly season. But everything it touches or comes near smells forever like an old time woodsman. It reminds me of heavy cotton duck tents, cast iron cookware, and flannel kapok sleeping bags.

    Lately I’ve been pretty happy with Sawyer picaridin instead, which doesn’t stink, doesn’t wreck plastic, and does work well.

    Picaridin is also sold worldwide as Icaridin and one of the most common brands that use it is Autan, though it’s not in every variety they make. I’d be surprised if it weren’t available in Australia.

  17. One summer I bought my usual Ben’s 100 plus picardan and IR3535 and rotated them for the week I was a summer camp. I guess they all worked but I came away with some nasty bites on days that I didn’t use the Bens. Now I treat my clothes with permethrin and apply Ben’s 100 as needed.

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